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‘Undervotes’ loom large in Obenshain’s AG recount bid

By   /   November 27, 2013  /   No Comments

HOPEFUL: Republican attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain filed for a statewide recount on Wednesday.

HOPEFUL: Republican attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain filed for a statewide recount on Wednesday.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Mark Obenshain’s legal team on Wednesday filed for a recount of the attorney general’s race in which Democrat Mark Herring was certified the winner by 165 votes.

Herring’s slim victory in the Virginia election could be overturned — or padded — by an estimated 50,000 uncounted “undervotes” among the 2.2 million ballots cast.

Obenshain attorney Stephen Piepgrass said undervotes “should be carefully scrutinized,” but added that his team was not singling out specific votes in the recount.

A three-judge court, headed by the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court, will supervise the statewide recount in mid-December.

Local recounts should take one day in most jurisdictions – and two or more days in larger counties – Piepgrass said.

He said the Obenshain team is working with Herring’s lawyers “to keep the process civil.”

The day of the recount, in each locality, recount teams will:

  • Run optical scan ballots through tabulating machines.
  • Recount by hand any optical scan ballots that are rejected from the machines.
  • Recount by hand provisional ballots, cast by voters whose eligibility or identification could not be ascertained.
  • Recount by hand absentee ballots.
  • Re-tally the tapes printed by direct-recording electronic voting machines.
  • Reprint and re-tally any illegible tapes printed on election night.

If election officials cannot agree on how to count certain ballots, those ballots will be sent to Richmond for the recount court to adjudicate. The results from all localities will then be totaled and the three judges will declare the winner.

House Speaker William Howell, in a statement issued Tuesday, said, “Like many others, I have heard concerns from voters across the commonwealth that in a race separated by seven one thousandths of a percent, we must take extra care to ensure an accurate result. I cannot imagine a more appropriate use of Virginia’s recount laws.

“We must eliminate any potential lingering errors in the vote tabulation and give close scrutiny to questions raised in the certification process by the State Board of Elections Chairman Charlie Judd. The people of Virginia should have complete confidence that every legitimate vote has been counted.”

Judd referenced the extended period Fairfax County gave to considering, and accepting, provisional ballots. Virginia’s largest county also reported more than 5,000 “undervotes,” where optical scan machines may have failed to accurately tally ballots.

Political analyst Ben Tribbett estimated on Monday that as many as 50,000 undervotes have yet to be counted statewide. Piepgrass concurred with Tribbett’s calculation.

Republican State Leadership Committee President Chris Jankowski, speaking on behalf of the Republican Attorneys General Association, said, “The irregularities we’ve seen in Fairfax County make clear the need for a recount. Virginia’s updated recount law, sponsored by (Democratic) Sen. Creigh Deeds, mandates that optical scan ballots be re-run and if rejected by machine be tabulated by hand.

“The possibility of thousands of undervotes being counted is sound reason for a recount.”

Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward



Kenric Ward was a former San Antonio-based reporter for Watchdog.org.